posted on August 18, 2021 by Christopher St. John

Rescue bunnies will kick your butt!

When my wife and I first started collecting rescue bunnies ten years ago, I knew nothing about rabbits. Like most people, I had been acculturated to think of rabbits as living plush toys: 24/7 snugglers created to be pets for tween girls.

I was surprised to discover how complex their lives were. How territorial they were. And how fierce.

We were bringing home rabbits one or two at a time from rescue organizations, and we gave them free run of the house. We did not know then that rabbits who don’t know each other may be highly suspicious on first meeting, and very protective of their perquisites.

We attempted to make them all one big happy family (called “bonding” in rabbit parlance) and were shocked to learn they had minds of their own.

The rabbits eventually organized themselves into two opposing gangs, each with its own leader. They competed for territory. They competed to control food, even though there was plenty for everyone. And they competed to monopolize the petting that came from the two amiable herb-dispensers and litter-box attendants who hovered over their world.

It wasn’t all open warfare. Initially, one gang asserted ownership over all the rugs in the house. If members of the other gang were walking on the hardwood floor, Team Rug would rush along the edge of the carpet, guarding every inch of it with the zeal of true nylon pile patriots.

Team Rug eventually refused to walk on hardwood floors at all. So we ended up buying sample carpet squares to create walkways from one rug to the next.

Team Wood responded by engaging in a orgy of scent marking on all the items in their territory: walls, furniture, us. The meaning was clear. U can’t touch this. If we dropped a small item on the floor, they would rush over to rub their chin glands on it, thus claiming it as their own. I saw them mark items as small as a single blade of grass.

Within each gang, there was much love and cuddling. Each individual had their own hopes, fears, and preferred lifestyle. And they supported each other in that.

The gang leaders’ personal styles were also very different. The leader of Team Rug was very caring with her members. She looked after them as closely as any helicopter mom, guarded her frontiers diligently, and snuggled with her team hourly.

The leader of Team Wood, by contrast, swaggered around the house, assuming ownership of everything by divine right, and accepted the treats and petting coming her way as her natural due.

Over time, we learned to understand their language of posture and gesture. The ears alone are surprisingly eloquent. So we could read what they were saying to each other, both as friends and competitors.

Sometimes the statements were quite layered and—to us—hilarious. Such as the time when the Wood leader strolled up next to the edge of the rug where the opposing leader was standing, and engaged in the “I’m so comfortable” flop onto her side, which rabbits only do when they feel extremely safe and relaxed. The message to the Rug leader was quite clear. You are no threat. At all.

Despite our efforts, eventually there was open fighting. And once it started, it was ferocious. After several trips to the vet to get the gladiators stitched up, we turned the house into a miniature supermax prison, filled with gates at every doorway. The new regime was: These two gangs can’t be in the same room at the same time, or they will start shanking each other with their half-inch long incisors.

That kept the peace for awhile. Then the gang leaders realized they could fight though the bars of the metal gate, and they went at it with the balletic energy of an OG in West Side Story. When we put up plexiglass on the gates, they would sit on opposite sides and glare at each other.

In short, there was a whole culture and furry epic happening six inches from the floor. And watching this, I got the first glimmerings of an idea: These individuals could take on a predator if they worked together.

Some visitors have looked at this rabbit drama and said, “They are so much like humans!”

I can see why they say this, but of course, it’s really the opposite that’s true. We are like them. Although we sometimes forget this, we are animals. And they are us.

Have you ever gotten to know a bunny? Would you like to? Please share your experience below. We’re giving away a free War Bunny eBook to everyone who leaves a comment!

Christopher St. John

Christopher St. John

Christopher St. John is a writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His plays have appeared at the Blue Bear Theatre in San Francisco, the York Theatre in New York, and Marigny Opera House in New Orleans. Christopher volunteers for several Bay Area animal rescue organizations. And he's proud to be part of the group that helped get the California Fur Ban signed into law in 2019. He and his partner live with rescue bunnies running freely in their well-nibbled home. Christopher started working on the War Bunny Chronicles in 2012. War Bunny is the first book to be published. The second book in the series, Summerday, will be published in 2022. Sign up for the War Bunny email list to get the latest news, deals and freebies.

14 thoughts on “Rescue bunnies will kick your butt!”

  1. bn100 says:

    no, but would be fun

  2. Judy Skapik says:

    My daughter has 2 rescue bunnies. Bunny #1 was rescued outside her home and has been her pet for years. Bunny #2 is from a bunny rescue organization. She had quite a time getting #1 to get along with other bunnies. Each time it did not work out. But, bunny #2 has finally worked out well, although a few skirmishes and territorial wars ensued. They still have disagreements but are pretty much settled with each other. Of course #1 is a female and #2 is male. Are most bunny families ruled by females? I don’t know. This one certainly is. I am sure my daughter will enjoy your stories as she has been living them herself.

  3. Hi Judy,

    Per what I’ve read and observed, this would be my take on your question.

    In the wild, all warrens are founded, dug and enlarged by does. The doe will then check out any bucks that come along and choose one that suits her. The initial population will be their children. Other rabbits may join later. The founding family tends to run the warren as a privileged caste, staking out the best runs and feeding spots for themselves.

    In the rescue bunny population, most of the individuals are spayed and neutered. The neutering tends to really dial down the bucks’ aggressive behavior, while the females are not changed that much. So the females tend to end up being the most aggressive and territorial rabbits in any given group.

    Living with a large rescue bunny population in my house had a strong influence on War Bunny. The protagonist and the fiercest warriors are mostly female.

    I hope your daughter enjoys her free copy of War Bunny. My plan is to fulfill the giveaway with a free day on Amazon, so you’re welcome to share it with anyone you like. : )

    1. Judy Skapik says:

      Thanks Christopher for the info regarding female “rulers” in the bunny population. I am sure I will love your new book as will my daughter who also posted a comment. I hope you are working on another book as I have a feeling that this one will be a big “hit”.


      1. Thank you, Judy!

        I am working on the next book in the series now. It’s called, “Summerday,” and it will be out next year.

  4. Cissy says:

    This is absolutely fascinating!

  5. Nicky Taylor says:

    It’s endearing to me to read that someone else has picked up on the nuances of bunny psychology, too. While my experiences were a little different, in our house we had a space we dubbed with dark humor the Gaza Strip as it was disputed territory among the species in the house – with the 2 rabbits always hovering around there & marking for dominion. Luckily, there were never any violent fights as all of our animals lived peacefully, but the silent confrontations were quite comical.

    I think one day I would like to have a bunny rescue as well when I have more property, so I am happy to hear about your success with yours. Thank you for helping with the need!

    A fantasy novel with bunnies sounds very unique and refreshing!

  6. Hi Nicky,

    That’s interesting that you have multiple species competing for domination over a particular piece of territory. I have not lived in a multiple-animal-species household since I was a kid, and I did not pay attention to that kind of thing then. I would have guessed that the different species would ignore each other in terms of territory, so it’s fascinating to hear that they both did compete and that they did it without violence.

    I’m glad that you find the premise of War Bunny unique and refreshing. It’s both fierce and loving…just like bunnies themselves!

  7. Jennifer R says:

    I know Christopher’s work from the York Theater in NYC – and look forwarding to reading this book!

    1. Thank you, Jennifer! I hope you enjoy it!

  8. GB says:

    One of my cousins had a pet rabbit. It was a wonderful armful and I believe had the fun of the first floor. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post, your rabbit rescues sound fascinating.

    1. Hi GB,

      Thanks for your note! Yes, the bunny social world is quite intriguing. And it also holds up an interesting mirror to human social interactions.

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